The opinion of the court was delivered by: BENSON
This is an action filed by the claims fiduciary of an ERISA employee welfare benefit plan seeking a declaration that it is justified in paying to the named beneficiary the death benefit payable under the GM Life and Disability Benefits Program ("GM Plan") which is payable due to the death of Thomas Walsh, Jr., a participant in the GM Plan. The parties have stipulated that decedent Thomas Walsh, Jr., began his employment with General Motors Corporation on April 9, 1953, and retired on September 1, 1992. On June 26, 1963, plaintiff was divorced from his first wife, Shirley Walsh Braucher. Plaintiff died on April 30, 1993.
Facts not stipulated to, but which are uncontroverted in the record, are that plaintiff is the claims fiduciary appointed by the General Motors, the GM Plan administrator, to determine Basic Life Insurance benefit claim eligibility and entitlement. Under the Plan, the participant is entitled to designate a beneficiary on a form which must be filed with plaintiff. A participant may change the beneficiary at any time. Payment must be made to the "beneficiary of record" as reflected on the beneficiary designation form. Decedent Mr. Walsh filed only one beneficiary designation form, on August 10, 1955, and that form listed as the beneficiary defendant Braucher. Plaintiff was married at the time of his death to defendant June Walsh. Hence, the beneficiary form on file at the time of Mr. Walsh's death bore the name of a woman from whom he had been divorced for 30 years, and not the name of his widow, June Walsh. The amount of the benefit at issue is $ 44,000.00.
Plaintiff has filed a motion for summary judgment, in which defendant Braucher has joined. Defendant Walsh filed a motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff has filed a reply brief. The motions are ripe for disposition.
Summary judgment is appropriate if, drawing all inferences in favor of the non-moving party, ". . . the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Summary judgment may be granted against a party who fails to adduce facts sufficient to establish the existence of any element essential to that party's case, and for which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corporation v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). The moving party bears the initial burden of identifying evidence which demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Once that burden has been met, the non-moving party must set forth ". . . specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. . ." or the factual record will be taken as presented by the moving Party and judgment will be entered as a matter of law. Matsushita Electric Industrial Corp. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538, 106 S. Ct. 1348 (1986). An issue is genuine only if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986).
The stipulated and uncontested facts of record establish that, pursuant to the terms of the GM Plan, defendant Braucher is entitled to the death benefit payable due to Mr. Walsh's death. Defendant June Walsh, however, asserts that the designation of beneficiary is ineffectual under Pennsylvania law, which provides as follows:
20 Pa.C.S.A. § 6111.2. Plaintiff responds that the Pennsylvania law in question is preempted by ERISA. I am constrained to agree.
Plaintiff cites to the case of Metropolitan Life Insurance Company v. Hanslip, 939 F.2d 904 (10th Cir. 1991). In that case, a similar state law
was found to be preempted by ERISA. Indeed, I find the conclusion reached by the Hanslip court inescapable in this case as well. ERISA "supercede[s] any and all state laws insofar as they may now or hereafter relate to any employee benefit plan . . ." 29 U.S.C. § 1144(a). Here, the GM Plan is clearly an employee benefit plan governed by ERISA, and the Pennsylvania statute at issue clearly "relates to" the GM Plan. See, Ingersoll-Rand Co. v. McClendon, 498 U.S. 133, 112 L. Ed. 2d 474, 111 S. Ct. 478 (1990).
Defendant Walsh argues that this case falls within one of the exceptions to the preemption. First, Walsh asserts that § 1144(b)(1) saves the Pennsylvania law from preemption in ...